For some, it's a fear of heights. Others fear tight, enclosed spaces. And others still are terrified by the pain of rejection and the specter of growing old and dying alone without once knowing the sweet embrace of a woman's true love.
Others, maybe. But not me. Heights don't bother me a single bit. You wanna see a tight, enclosed space? Try my cubicle at work. As for dying alone, I plan to buy the love and affection of a good woman with extravagant gifts and empty promises. And if that fails, there's always legalized prostitution.
No, my fear runs much deeper than those trivial concerns. My phobia cuts to the very quick of man's struggle with the unknown. My demon is one that has bedeviled society since the earliest civilizations.
I am deathly afraid of celebrities.
Which can be a problem when you find yourself walking around the set of NewsRadio, as I did a few months ago as they filmed the series' season finale, "Sinking Ship." Because whatever else one can say about hanging around a Hollywood studio while hard working men and women craft comedy that will delight millions, one fact requires no argument -- you will find yourself ass-deep in celebrities.
Why, look over there -- it's Andy Dick, amusing co-workers with wacky pratfalls! And there's Maura Tierney, looking as lovely as ever. Hey! It's Dave Foley and he's being interviewed by a crew from celebrity suck-up show Access Hollywood.
And who's that there in the corner? Why, it's Philip Michaels, curled up in the fetal position and whimpering like a little sissy!
People in general make me nervous. I really don't speak to my upstairs neighbors. I avoid all eye contact with the attractive young lady who works at the coffee store down the street. I communicate to coworkers largely through a series of grunts and whistles.
There are many reasons for my shyness, of course. I'm an intensely private man. Issues from my past make it hard for me to form close bonds with others. But largely, it's because of my strong aversion to embarrassing myself in front of people. And it would just kill me if my upstairs neighbors or co-workers or that attractive young lady down at the coffee store decided that I was a blithering ass.
But celebrities... that's a whole different kettle of fish. Make a dope of yourself in front of a total stranger, and there's relatively few repercussions. But if a celebrity decides you're a dunderheaded rube, then you've just opened the door to a new world of pain for yourself. These are rich, powerful people, after all. One call to their publicists and, at best, you'll never be able to eat at any of the fine restaurants around town again. At worst, some thick-necked body guard is burying you alive in a shallow grave outside of Chatsworth, the real world oblivious to your screams for mercy.
So that's why, while my Vidiot companion Ben Boychuk was running around the NewsRadio set, gaping like a backwoods rube at all the sets and the cameras and the duct tape, I stood off fidgeting in a corner, praying to my God for deliverance.
For deliverance, as it turned out, that would never come. Instead, I found myself at the mercy of the brutish fates, my worst fears live and in technicolor right before me. And it happened where so many dreams are wasted, so many lives destroyed, so many young turks like me cut down in their prime and cast aside.
It happened at the craft services table.
I was standing there, chatting ever so amicably with one of NewsRadio's vastly talented writers. But more importantly, I was woofing down free celery from the craft services table. Because you can argue all you want about any four-star restaurant in any city that you can name. But for my money, the best food anywhere is free TV Food.
So there I was, eating my celery and talking to the writer and feeling no fear at all because it's not like writers have the power to decide who lives and who dies in this town. When all of a sudden Stephen Root -- big-time TV actor Stephen Root -- walks past the craft services table and walks past me.
And I'll be damned if Stephen Root doesn't reach over and goose me.
I think, given my fear of celebrities, that I reacted fairly well once the reality sunk in that a big-time TV actor had reached over and pinched me just above my right hip. Oh man, here we go, I thought to myself. Clearly, I've been gorging myself on the special celery... the celery that only Stephen Root gets to eat. And now he's going to drag me outside by the scruff of my love handles where a half-dozen Teamsters are standing around with crowbars to teach presumptuous little boys the dangers of muscling in on a Hollywood bigshot's celery.
So calmly, cooly, I addressed the situation the only way I knew how.
"Bwwwwwwaaaaaaaaaah!" I bellowed like Dustin Hoffman in "Rainman" whenever Tom Cruise let loose with a bad touch.
Well, that got Stephen Root's attention. He stopped dead in his tracks and looked at me for a few seconds as a shade of confusion and genuine embarrassment fell across his face.
"Oh, I'm sorry," he finally said. "I though you were McPherson." Then he walked away.
And I'll be damned if I ever know who McPherson is and why it's all right for Stephen Root to walk around goosing him.
I helped myself to more celery.
It's all right, I said to myself. So a celebrity mauled you. It was a case of mistaken identity. Happens all the time. No need to get excited. No need to start hyperventilating. Just sit back and enjoy the rest of your day on the NewsRadio set, rubbing elbows with the comedy elite and eating their food. Nothing to worry about whatsoever.
That's about when Maura Tierney walked up to me.
Now, folks who read these articles on occasion might think to themselves, "Boy oh boy, that Michaels is sure a conceited son of a bitch to believe that we actually spend our spare moments thinking of him."
But others -- the smart, perceptive, sophisticated ones -- probably think, "That Michaels, always making with the quips and japes and clever literary allusions! Why I bet he's quite the smoothie around the women folk."
Well, you're quite wrong. Truth be told, whenever I find myself in the presence of ladies, I become a stammering, dim-witted clod. And when that lady happens to be a lovely and talented TV star like Maura Tierney.... well, Slim, all bets are off.
So I stood there at the craft services table, white-knuckling the celery as the enchanting Ms. Tierney stood just a few feet away, picking herself a soda out of the ice chest. God, I remember praying silently, if you can just get me through the next few moments without inflicting any undue shame upon myself in the presence of Maura Tierney, I will be forever grateful and try not to curse and stop watching the dirty videos and start going to...
"Damnit, Phil," Maura Tierney suddenly muttered.
Why don't you like me, God?
I have heard some horrifying sounds in my time. The crunch of metal in a parking lot fender bender. The snap of a knee ligament during a recreational softball game. The bitter laughter of my senior prom date. But let me tell you, they all pale in comparison to the sound of a captivating and talented TV actresses muttering your first name in abject exasperation for seemingly no reason whatsoever.
Maura Tierney wasn't talking to me, of course, because that would just be too creepy. No, she was talking about Phil Hartman -- the talented guy named Phil -- who happened to be on the set right at that moment, flubbing a line... hence, Maura Tierney's exasperation.
At least, that's how Ben explained it to me once paramedics managed to revive me.
Thinking back on it all, though, I can see now what a silly goose I've been. Celebrities are regular folks just like you and me... except for the money, acclaim and fabulous cocaine parties they attend. But still, they put on their pants one leg at a time, even if the pockets of those pairs of pants are jammed with wads of cash and cocaine vials.
I was a rube to worry about debasing myself in front of Maura Tierney and all the other talented folks who give us NewsRadio. And as for getting goosed by Stephen Root, well, that can all be easily explained. You see, we visited the set on St. Patrick's Day, and -- iconoclast that I am -- I wasn't wearing a stitch of green. So Stephen Root probably saw me, mistook me for his good buddy McPherson and decided to honor the age old tradition of pinching those who fail to don the colors of Ireland. You see? All very innocent. All perfectly reasonable.
I'm still going ahead with the civil suit, though.